The Fog of War

The Fog of War quotes

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Robert McNamara


I saw the movie as a collaboration between the two of us. I never saw the movie, as I was making it, and I don't see the movie now, as my attempt to quote-unquote "get," go after, Robert S. McNamara. I saw it as an attempt to try to understand McNamara - to answer questions about McNamara. Morris, Errol. The Anti-Post-Modern Post-Modernist.


If you went to the C.I.A. and said "How is the situation today in South Vietnam?" I think they would say it's worse. You see it in the desertion rate, you see it in the morale. You see it in the difficulty to recruit people. You see it in the gradual loss of population control. Many of us in private would say that things are not good, they've gotten worse. Now while we say this in private and not public, there are facts available that find their way in the press. If we're going to stay in there, if we're going to go up the escalating chain, we're going to have to educate the people, Mr. President. We haven't done so yet. I'm not sure now is exactly the right time. This conversation was also taped by Johnson, on June 9, 1964.

LeMay said, "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?

I'm not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war. We're not going to change human nature anytime soon. It isn't that we aren't rational. We are rational. But reason has limits. There's a quote from T.S. Eliot that I just love:
We shall not cease from exploring
And at the end of our exploration
We will return to where we started
And know the place for the first time. Now that's in a sense where I'm beginning to be.

What makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? We are the strongest nation in the world today. I do not believe that we should ever apply that economic, political, and military power unilaterally. If we had followed that rule in Vietnam, we wouldn't have been there. None of our allies supported us. Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain or France. If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we'd better reexamine our reasoning.

We all make mistakes. We know we make mistakes. I don't know any military commander, who is honest, who would say he has not made a mistake. There's a wonderful phrase: 'the fog of war.' What "the fog of war" means is: war is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily.

Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb if LeMay was burning up Japan? And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities. 58% of Yokohama. Yokohama is roughly the size of Cleveland. 58% of Cleveland destroyed. Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51% percent of New York destroyed. 99% of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama. 40% of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya. This was all done before the dropping of the nuclear bomb, which by the way was dropped by LeMay's command. Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.

Let me go back one moment. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, at the end, I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam, we didn't know them well enough to empathize. And there was total misunderstanding as a result. They believed that we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power, and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam to our colonial interests, which was absolutely absurd. And we, we saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War. Not what they saw it as: a civil war.

Norman Morrison was a Quaker. He was opposed to war, the violence of war, the killing. He came to the Pentagon, doused himself with gasoline. Burned himself to death below my office. He held a child in his arms, his daughter. Passersby shouted, "Save the child!" He threw the child out of his arms, and the child lived and is alive today. His wife issued a very moving statement: 'Human beings must stop killing other human beings.' And that's a belief that I shared. I shared it then and I believe it even more strongly today. How much evil must we do in order to do good? We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it.

I've always wondered where explanations end and excuses begin. And is there a difference between excuses and explanations ... is an excuse a bad or self-serving explanation? I don't know. Maybe Newton's Law is an excuse for why bodies just stay at rest or in motion unless acted on by some external force. I look at the McNamara story as the-fog-of-war-ate-my-homework excuse. After all, if war is so complex, then no one is responsible. Errol Morris' response to Ron Rosenbaum's suggestion that the film be re-titled Eleven Excuses of Robert S. McNamara.

The major lesson of the Cuban missile crisis is this: the indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will destroy nations. Is it right and proper that today there are 7500 offensive strategic nuclear warheads, of which 2500 are on a 15 minute alert to be lauched at the decision of *one* human being?

Morris, Errol. The Anti-Post-Modern Post-Modernist.

In Thompson's mind was this thought: Khrushchev's gotten himself in a hell of a fix. He would then think to himself, "My God, if I can get out of this with a deal that I can say to the Russian people: 'Kennedy was going to destroy Castro and I prevented it.'" Thompson, knowing Khrushchev as he did, thought Khrushchev will accept that. And Thompson was right. That's what I call empathy. We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions.

My wife, Julia Sheehan, sees McNamara as 'the flying Dutchman,' destined to travel the earth looking for redemption, absolution, whatever. Many political writers have been less kind. They see his trip to Vietnam, to Hanoi, as an attempt to justify a war that can never be justified. And they see his trips to Havana and to Moscow as facile attempts to rewrite history. I see it differently. There is something, for me, deeply moving and interesting about McNamara's attempt to figure out what happened, who he is and what he's done. Unusual among public figures, he has embarked on an historical investigation of himself. But doesn't he know what he's done? Call it the Cartesian error: the belief that we have privileged access to our own minds, that we somehow know what we're thinking or what we were thinking. Can't I just look 'upstairs' and summarize what I find up there? I don't think so. Errol Morris

Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war. I was trying to help him keep us out of war. And General Curtis LeMay, whom I served under as a matter of fact in World War II, was saying "Let's go in, let's totally destroy Cuba."